Amitabh at 75 years

On his landmark birthday of three fourth way towards a century, Amitabh Bachchan retains the romance of the star he once rose to be some four decades ago. He is active in films, in the entertainment business, on social media, in public opinion and what is of greater significance, in gossips circulating around celebrities. It seems, as if that the writers are exhausted of ideas to write good scripts for him, but Amitabh’s image is still eager to grow and evolve into a finality that eludes our imagination. If we have the likes of Salim Javed once again in the present times, Amitabh can still rise into the iconic megastar all over again, crushing all the stars of our times. He has a strange presence; it is literally when he stands no one can be seen in his glare. In the early days of Amitabh’s stardom we used to discuss how politics of his time brought him in but our question today will be, if the age that held him has passed into history, what makes him still a star?

I “met” Amitabh forty years ago while watching Sholay after it already had run over two years. After that I quickly watched Amar Akbar Anthony. I watched Zanjeer and Deewar much later in reruns. But in my first encounter of him in Sholay, a film that cannot really be said to belong to Amitabh specifically, there was something about him for which I decided that in my life henceforth, I will be Amitabh Bachchan. I grew studious, dead serious, somewhat melancholic, but focused and decided to win at everything I do. I became a perfectionist, hardworking, confident, defiant and also arrogant. I used to imagine Amitabh Bachchan as bearing all of the above attributes and hence worked myself up to be all of these. Slowly, I discovered that the image of the star also was attached to his parents, dutiful towards his children and I too, taught myself to be mindful of my own parents. When I watched Deewar, I became intensely political; interestingly, I developed a socialist, egalitarian, anti-rich political affiliation with strong ideas about social justice. I trained myself to become fearless and soon had a hostile body language that helped me hold out against potential eve teasers.

Then came Amitabh’s first downfall as he, charged with graft, resigned from politics. I became aware of the sociology of public opinion and since I was about to write my MPhil examinations in JNU, I decided to work on the public condemnation of Amitabh Bachchan. My thesis was called the Social Construction of a Hero, The Images By Amitabh Bachchan. In the dissertation I discussed how the star image of Amitabh Bachchan made the public construct him as a man who could corrupt the politicians. I started working at the end of the career as an MPhil student and soon I used Amitabh’s formula of hitting back at critics with a slew of comeback films, renewed contacts with the media and creating noise around his own victimization as the apt formula which I could use against harassment at my workplace. I started feeling invincible in the sense that if I do not accept defeat, no one can rile me in. I learnt how to rise up against hostilities. My MPhil dissertation expanded into a PhD thesis in which I concentrated on how Amitabh Bachchan was a philosophy of overcoming of obstacles and of evolving into a higher level of achievements.

Slowly I grew older and more settled in my employment and made a name for myself in my career. I now own my own apartment and drive my own car; my days as a street fighter seems to be over. I also have now other people to admire, I no longer watch popular films, and I have expanded my readings far beyond political thoughts into reading more of history and anthropology. I no longer need to be Amitabh Bachchan and Amitabh, truly seems to have brought me as far as he could and now my journey with him seems to be over. When I look back on the star with distance and detachment and again ask myself the same question, what makes Amitabh into the star that he is, I think that I get two possible explanations.

One is undoubtedly his family background, not of political connections for these no longer work for him, but of education. The advantage of having a poet father and a mother who used to be college teacher before her marriage, the privilege of forever having poets and novelists as guests, the atmosphere of English classical literature, Shakespeare’s plays and the poetry of Yeats gives Amitabh a rare education, perhaps unparalleled by any among his peers. People often miss this very important asset of Amitabh Bachchan when they count his money and mark his wealth.

The other explanation is a sense of restrain. In the height of success or the depths of failure, from earning a crore per hour of work to being penniless with his home on mortgage, Amitabh seems to have neither been overboard with joy nor sink into a doomed despair. Money does not embolden him, penury does not unsettle him. When in bad times, he thinks of emerging out and when in good times, he dreams of further perfection. In his restrain lies both a sense of self command and self-awareness. I think that the above two explanations are somewhat related; only a very fine education can lead to a heightened awareness of the self, which is plainly what Amitabh Bachchan inheres; every other attribute of action and anger, of renewal and retribution, of victory and justice only build upon the strong edifice of self-awareness. If I am to become Amitabh again, I think that I need to raise my self-awareness and not my voice.

With his roles in the Last Lear and Kahaani, Amitabh is no more a stranger to Tagore and hence we can wish him through Tagore’s birthday song, He Nutan, Dekha Dao Baar Baar, Jonmero Prothomo Shubhakshan, or translated as Let me be renewed every moment with the renewal of that first auspicious moment of my birth, or O Divine, let me be born again and again, every moment being the auspicious moment of my birth.


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Bijoya Dashami versus Dussehra

On the day of the Bisorjon I get loads of happy Dussehra greetings. Bisorjon is a sad time and the Bijoya Sammilani a way of huddling together with friends and family to celebrate the aftermath of an exhausting festivity. The Dussehra greetings seem so out of place and useless then. Here we have this enormous Goddess created through myths and imaginations of the mind and there we have the pithy guy called Ram who is trying hopelessly to be God. The epics were most probably compiled out of a collection of folk tales during the Guptas in the 4 CE but these were revived and rewritten copiously from the 11th century onwards and by the 17th centuries we have thousands of versions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata coming from all over the Indian subcontinent and in the various vernacular languages which grew threw such rewritings of the epics.

Interestingly the period of resuscitation of the epics corresponds to the age of the Muslim conquests which sometimes could establish political power as in Delhi but for most of the times were a nuisance as in Bengal, indulging in the purest form of goondaism so amply cited in the biographies around Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Muslim Bengal never really constituted a political or an economic power for these remained with the local Rajas and the zamindars but yes, they did assume some form of central authority on the might of violence by which they claimed swathes of lands rampaged by their hooligans as being subjected to Islam. To stand up against the Muslim rule that often forced conversions rose Hinduism to revive itself. The Gita may have been the first attempt at bringing Hinduism at par with Islam for here was the Book for the Hindus spoken by a God in first person claiming that the human surrender to Him unconditionally and unquestioningly just as in the Abrahamic texts. The Ramayana also was an epic around a singular and a unique hero who stood for everything that was noble and heroic and therefore extremely susceptible to becoming God.

Ram worship which used to be mostly in the form of a Ramlila, a dramatic performance that became an occasion for discussing public values and morals of kings and heroes and such narratives had the most wonderful effect of placing the Dharma of Kings against the emergent British power, especially as we know that there was a strain on the economy leading to suffering of the common people. The Durga Puja was not a protest but an ostentation, by the local Rajas, many among who, if we are to go by the Raychowdhuries and the Daws, the Malliks and the Dorjipara actually did very well during the British rule. Ramlila’s flavour is vernacular while that of Durgapuja is Renascent, it is intrinsically universal, victorious and regal. Ramlila is of subjects, Durgapuja is by sovereign kings. This is why in the days of the Rightwing politics, the vernacular culture, defeated by modernity seeks Ram, the sovereign Bengali culture, redeemed by modernity seeks Durga.

Durga has a Puranic entity in which she is a demon slayer, and what a slayer she is for she kills that demon that no male God can kill. As the chants of the Mahalaya begins we hear how the various celestial celebrities give their weapons to her, to me it always seems that they are giving up their weapons to her. Durga collects these arms and then she slays Mahishasur, the great guy from Mysore, the great devotee of Lord Shiva, her husband. We don’t know what wrong the Mysore guy commits but he needs to be slain for he threatens to challenge the fair skinned Gods. Durga is a capable woman, for she has shown enough might in her abilities to suffer, she abounds in self-confidence, being the daughter of the richest King on earth and she is willful for she goes against every well-wisher of hers to marry this much older drug addict and alcoholic, Shiva who does not even have a proper roof over his head. Durga is invincible also because of her love for Shiva, her affections for her children, her tolerance of Brahma and Bishnu both of who are her sons in law. So she is the ultimate sovereign, no one is more powerful than her. Hence she is invoked to undo this Mysore man and in the process undo the boons of none other than her beloved husband. Shiva has never asserted himself against her except the time when he tried to fool around with Ganesha and according to some versions even behead the little boy. Durga was so angry that not only had Shiva to restore the child to life but also give him the pride of place as Ganesha must be invoked before we invoke any Deity of Hinduism. Whatever be the conditions of his birth, Ganesha does not have Shiva’s sperms and represents the ultimate power of Durga to have a child without sex. Interestingly, those who follow the lunar calendar say that Mother Mary was born on Mahalaya day, so strange because Durga as the warrior Goddess was too born on that day, both being virgin mothers.

Durga in Bengal is worshipped only as a community God and not as a personal God. There is no everyday worship of her precisely because she is simply does not live in the abode of her devotees. On the days of her worship, Bengalis welcome her as the daughter who has come home. She is a victorious daughter, a powerful Being, contented in her moorings in Kailash and looks so happy. But Bengalis cannot get over the fact that this Princess of all Princess, the pampered daughter of the King of all Kings must vacate her material comforts to live in the harshness of the mountains. So when she comes with her children Bengalis go overboard trying to compensate her ascetic existence with the bounties of the world, food, clothes, ornaments, music, dance, gaiety and others. Durgapuja is Bengal’s greatest cultural show on earth. Ramlila is a stage performance, no more than that.

Durgapuja is a unity, an accumulation, a consolidation and an aggregation. It sucks in zillion entities within it. Some local boys have formed a music band, play it for the Pujos, the poet has composed some poetry, publish it for the pujos. Those who squirm at the resplendent pandals saying that this is waste of money are not economists for they do not see the millions of homes sustained through the Durga Puja economy. The money for the outrageous show comes out of donations, small enough so as not to hurt one’s pockets too much, mostly collecting advertisement budgets of corporate houses, the pandals snatches away from budgets of the media houses. The proportion of money spent individually is too small but when aggregated for Durga becomes huge.

Immersion is crucial to Durga. It creates space for fresh spending again next year and so we say Ashchhe Bochhor Abar Hobe. The worship of earthen idols and their immersion is not intrinsic to Hindu worship. The Jagannath undergoes a renewal of its wooden body in nabakalebar. But the earthen idol, the Pandal and the immersion have been crucial to making a pujo into a community affair, a vehicle for the circulation of wealth. The Ramlila simply has no comparison to this grandiose of the Durga Puja made possible through a massive circulation of wealth. The Bisorjon is an ending just as the Mahalaya is a beginning. For the Bengalis it is the Durga Puja that marks the beginning and the end of time, we live from Pujo to Pujo.

The Ramlila is not a Time marker, it is a seasonal affair and though some scholars have tried to trace a whole lot of livelihood and community ties of obligations around the Ramayana, they have not been able to establish it in the same vein as the Durga Puja.

But let us never imagine that the Durga Puja is the tradition of Bengal for just step outside the city or beyond the high walls of the erstwhile zamindars all we see is a sleepy village that wakes up not until much later with the Nabanna and the Raas and then there is the worship of the harvest, the paddy, the fields and the foods. Gods and their idols are aggregated symbols that we actually super imposed on traditions and may not be traditions of Bengal. The idol is an aggregator, brought into worship when we want to collect the forces of the community and not necessarily keep playing through tradition in order to reproduce the community over and over again. This is why the idol worship invokes so much of innovative ness.

The Ramlila is a theatre group, a rock band whose relationship to the community is like any other performance group, to entertain through a product. It is neither nor can ever be as participative as the Durga Puja where the life of the Goddesses, her pains and her achievements, her sufferings and her victories, her well being and hardships, her joys and resentments are acutely felt in every Bengali’s body and soul for she who is so dear to us must suffer so on account of a marriage we were so helpless to prevent. This is why when she goes away all she does is to give us pain by making our homes empty all over again. This emptiness makes us calm emptying us of our energies for quite some time to come, carrying us calmly through the rest of Autumn and the winter and not before the spring comes again with the Noboborsho really that we are over with our sense of missing the daughter. Ramlila ends by arousing our ego and our violence, it gives us the smugness of having killed a guy by maiming him first and then by blowing him up. The violence and its celebrations jar the solemness of Bijoya Dashami. If there is something that indeed can calm us and get the evil out of us, it is the Bijoya Dashami and not the Ramlila, for the effect of the latter is quite the opposite of calmness. Rest of India, if they are seriously looking to overcome the evil must come into the Bisorjon, the dead calm of the water that carries our darling daughter away from us again and again. But for this, the rest of India must love their daughters as much as the Bengalis love ours.















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Amitabh @ Prateeksha

It was exactly on the 20th of December 1990 that I got an invitation from Amitabh Bachchan to be his house guest at Prateeksha in Mumbai. The invitation came through a call from Mumbai, then still Bombay in my landlord’s telephone because I as yet did not have my own connection. It seems that he called earlier in the day while I was at office, wanted to know when I would be available “directly” to take his call and there I was at 10 minutes past 6 pm to talk to him. I told him that trains were full in the last week of December and that I might like to postpone my visit until later into the New Year but he said that he was to visit South Africa and then again get very busy so here he was in a lean period when breaks were manageable. He would send me plane tickets both ways, the return being an open ticket and I was not to worry because I would be very well taken care of at his house by his family and him. But the nights, I said I would want to be in my office guest house, fairly close to his house in Juhu because I was not too comfortable living in with families which included even my own relatives. I was duly booked for the nights at the airport Hotel, fully paid for by Amitabh Bachchan. The reason for the invitation was that I had posted him, albeit rather late, copies of my MPhil dissertation from JNU titled the Social Construction of a Hero –Images By Amitabh Bachchan. The stuff I wrote, he said were exactly presented just in the way he thought of himself in his mind. How could I ever know his mind so well was the curiosity he wished to satiate through my visit to his home.

When this happened I was 29 years old and from the age of 17 I was a fan of Amitabh Bachchan having seen him for the first time on screen in Sholay and Sholay was not even exclusively his film. I, being born and bred in a renascent Bengali family, supposed to know nothing beyond Tagore suddenly became enamoured by a guy playing a pedestrian role in a multistarrer apparently violent. Thereafter, I tracked Amitabh through both the new releases as well as the rereleases of older movies. I decided that I was Amitabh Bachchan, in my mind every separation between his entity and mine was to vanish. I had to think with his thoughts, move with his body language and work through my everyday life as if, within my own precincts I was he. I was not romantically nor erotically attracted to him; my attraction towards him was philosophical. In my mind I already was speaking to him all the time and when I finally blurted all that out in my academic work, I, had attained silence because dialogue ceases in complete agreement. So, frankly, I no longer needed to meet Amitabh. But I would get a chance to see Jaya Bhaduri, and to see her became my overriding interest in visiting Prateeksha.

Amitabh sent over the tickets to me through his establishment in Delhi and his car and driver picked me up in the wee hours of the morning to drop me at the airport for the flight to Mumbai. I was more worried about a packet of soft notun gur sweets not being squashed on flight that I was carrying for the Bachchan family purchased from Annapurna in front of their Delhi bungalow, Sopan. Then finally as the day broke and life picked up in the streets in Mumbai that his car drove me into Prateeksha. Amitabh was the first person to greet me in the house. He was getting very distracted by a light sweater that I was wearing from Delhi because though Delhi was freezing, Mumbai was hot. He constantly worried that should the sun become brighter I would sweat. He then took the journalist who was interviewing him and me into the wooden shed at the corner of his garden because here he could run the airconditioning. He was more enthusiastic talking about my work to the journalist than about discussing his.

It was close to lunch that I met the family in full force which included Ajitabh who had come down from London. I soon realized as we sat down to dine in the finest silver crockery and over a twelve course meal, that it was not Amitabh Bachchan, but I who was the star. Eyes were looking at me admiringly and with awe, there were furtive glances from the staff trying to see what kind of a star I was so as to merit such an honour. I inferred that so far no guest has been so much honoured at Prateeksha as I was. Perhaps the reason was that I was an academic and so was Harivanshrai Bachchan. Teji, Amitabh’s mother told me that Harivanshrai had read my work and then my bibliography and said to her that so many books, even he had not read. I was being admired for my academic achievement.

In my observations and through my analyses of Amitabh Bachchan, he, his family, his home, the way it was organized, the décor, and his daily routine was very familiar to me. It was as if I knew them as closely as I knew my own family. But it was interesting that they too found me familiar to them as well. I think that they knew my “type”, intelligentsia, city bred urban middle class educated in premier institutions with excellent schooling and that made my “type” much more familiar to the family than the film world of Mumbai could ever be.

Yes, food was resplendent and overflowing, Amitabh was perceptive to my addiction to pickles and insisted that the pickle should always be set before me for all meals. Jaya was torn between being a good host and just chatting with me finding in me a fellow Bengali who remembered her glorious films and her famous Bengali directors. But the memory that I would cherish were the philosophical discussions with Amitabh and Jaya over the nature of self, manifestations of ego, anger, morality, the law and justice, democracy and ethics, stardom and cinema, poetry and epic, spectacle and extravaganza, violence and obscenity, right wing politics and liberalism, vendetta of the media and the emancipatory power of popular culture, of Hussain and Ganesh Pyne, of eyes and laughter, of image and appeal, most of these I have captured in my forthcoming book of sixty philosophical essays around the image of Amitabh Bachchan.



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Doyen of Kallol _Premendra Mitra

Premendra Mitra


Premendranath Mitra is a popular novelist, poet, film script writer and director and is considered as a doyen, among others, of the Kallol movement. He can be credited with nearly a hundred composition in terms of novels, short stories, and poetry and film scripts. He wrote realistically for the adult, despairingly for the romantic and hilariously for children. He is the author of the famous series on Ghanada, Mamababu and Mejokarta. While Ghanada stories are about Ghanada, a character who has either a vast experience of life or a hyperactive imagination, Mamababu studied to be a mining engineer after retirement and Mejokarta is a ghost buster. Premendra Mitra exhausts the genres of adventure, action, detection, mystery, fantasy and the unusual. It may easily be seen that many of the later creations like Tenida, Shankar and even Prof Shonku and Feluda bear shades of the characters created by Premendra Mitra. In fact, there is a novel around Pataldanga which becomes the famous locality in the Tenida stories in Narayan Gangopadhyay and indeed among Ghanada’s cohorts, there is also a character called Tenda. Shibram Chakaroborty was one of the members of the “inner circle” around who Ghanada stories were written. Bonophool uses the compactness of Premendra Mitra’s short stories to create his stories really short. Many of Satyajit Ray’s stories of the unusual show signs of heavy borrowing from Premendra Mitra. Ray’s film, Mahanagar is based out of a novel by the famous author and so is Mrinal Sen’s film Khandar based on a Premendra Mitra novel.

Through his short stories, Premendra Mitra explores the various possibilities that human subconscious brings forth, while through his novels, he explores the dynamics that are all set to change the essence of the family and human relations but it is through his children’s writings that he explores the wonder world of ants, of mad scientists and the vast world of the Andes and the Bororo tribes, the Sakhalin island off Siberia which can be crossed with a dog sledge in winters when the waters of the ocean freeze, making his readers travel vicariously all over the world. Premendra Mitra perhaps led the trend of Bengali writers taking their characters around the world through immaculate details of valleys and forests, sea and the mountains, ice and the desert and to strange humans and stranger animals. In order to be able to contextualize Premendra Mitra, we must look at the Kallol movement in greater detail.

The Kallol movement started in 1921 as a club formed by four young persons namely Gokulchandra Nag, Dineshranjan Das, Sunita Debi and Manindralal Basu. This was an adda club which also had its own magazine, by the name of Kallol, after which the movement is named. The aim of the movement was to cultivate the four arts, namely the novel, poetry, drama and crafts, the four pillars that still constitute the so called “aantel bangali” consciousness. The Kallol movement was supposedly to be a movement of the youth and in an enthusiasm to establish themselves they critiqued the Bengal Renaissance doyens like Rabindranath Tagore and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Iswar gupta and even Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, who wrote about the marginalized people of the periphery was also not a part of the Kallol movement. The movement critiqued the universal humanism of the classical writers; they were more interested in humans as ones who engaged in their everyday lives, struggling to keep up with the trials and tribulations of having to eke out an existence, not in the harsh geography of Tara Shankar or Bibhutibhushan, but in the city, negotiating through modern trade and industry, bargaining their way out with other human beings.

The characters and concerns of the Kallol writers were placed within the social labyrinth and not merely into their social statuses. The Kallol movement was born when a traditional society was modernizing and when new institutions, new organizations and new levels of endeavours were required of human agencies. The Kallol characters were socially constrained, economically strained and were condemned to mundanity because the world had little respect for their spirits. Kallol was the self-discovery of the Bengali middle class as a class in itself. The guiding philosophers for the Kallol were Freud and Marx, both of who spoke about relations as guiding the private and the public life of individuals rather than as humans in the cosmos. The flavor of their writings and works was realism and even postmodern because they placed the individual not merely as a spirit of the cosmos but as one who is constituted and constrained by her material conditions of existence. Borrowing heavily from modern Europe, Kallol writers in fact seem to have moved beyond them in privileging self-doubt and character inconsistency in their writings.

The movement had diverse personalities like Kazi Nazrul Islam, Achintya Kumar Sengupta, Jibananda Das and Buddhadeb Bose, and later Amiya Chakravarty. These writers were significantly different from one another and yet shared a common bond; that bond was to castigate Rabindranath Tagore. In Shesher Kobita, Tagore writes his own criticism through the character of the poet, Nibaran Chakravarty to show that Kallol’s principle reason for existence was to attack Tagore. This could have been a generation war but also a class war, the latter being more likely to be the case.

Given this backdrop, how do we place Premendra Mitra in this? We observe that he was born in 1904, Varanasi, a city in which his father was posted as an employee of the the Indian Railways. Premendra Mitra graduated from Calcutta University, worked as a research assistant to Prof Dinesh Chandra Sen for his enormous research on Bengali folk and Sanskrit texts and finally went on to study agriculture in Santiniketan. Each of the subjects he chooses is reflected in his diverse intellectual quest. He then writes novels and poetry and eventually spreads his scientific quest while writing for children. Premendra Mitra also directs films and writes scripts, as part of the crafts. In the last, namely in writing for the cinema, he seems to spearhead a trend which later writers like Saradindu Bandopadhyay and Ashutosh Mukhopadhyay followed and in fact, Aurobindo Mukherjee was the brother of the post Kallol writer, Bonophool.

Cinema is not an innocent medium, for across the world, the medium has been used by the rising middle class to proffer its specific class concerns as cultural universals. Premendra Mitra’s move towards the cinema represented the urge of the middle class to reach to the next level of media technology in order to universalize class principles. The cinema, in many ways can be said to be the culmination of the Kallol project because what was merely a matter of the urban middle class became raised into an overarching definition of what constituted the Bengali culture. Bengaliness, or Bangaliyana is still very much defined in the way Kallol defined it, leaving out the vast rural Bengal and even the pre modern Bengal out of its purview. Kallol does not merely end at defining Bengali culture but in fact makes culture as something to strive for. There are few communities in India apart from the Bengalis for who to be cultured is also a class statement and Kallol indeed made culture to be pursued in order to be counted among the elites.

Kallol was considered to be politically progressive and magazines like Uttara and Purbasha and Kalikolom, the last edited by Premendra Mitra followed suit. But Shanibarer Chithi, a journal started by Ashok Chattopadhyay opposed progressive thought by bringing in shades of conservatism into the urbane middle class Bengali readers.


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July For Julius Caesar

I have a mental block against Shakespeare; I have decided that I do not understand him. While I can approach the bard intellectually I can hardly see the point why he is so vital so as to have retained his appeal in an undiminished manner over four centuries now. What is there in his plays those which must have charged up his audiences then as well as now? Why do dialogues from his plays enter the common parlance of our speech? Why do his plays seem as relevant for the contemporary times as they did for the audiences when they were originally written and performed? My friend Runa Mukherjee has generously offered to give me some lessons in Shakespeare and it is partly through her and partly through my free course online with Prof Stephen Greenblatt of Harvard University that I sit down to piece together a context which Shakespeare must have braced and graced with his genius.

I know from school that the age of Shakespeare was the age of the European Renaissance, or rebirth, a time when the Europeans reread the Greek classics and were much enthused by the vastness of thought, poetry, metaphysics, drama, history and those which presented stuff much more interesting than the boring Bible. But how did so many people get to read the Greek literature? They read all of this in their school, most probably the grammar schools, to one of which Shakespeare went. My grandfather, an educationist would always insist that the European Renaissance could not have taken place until and unless the school system was spread far and wide. And why did the schools become much commoner during the times of Shakespeare? This had something to do with the Reformation of the Church in which at least for Western Europe, the Bible was published widely and read as part of one’s devotion to Christianity. The invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in Germany, the hub of the Holy Roman Empire indeed helped spread literacy as well as the school system. And once the schools were set up children read the classics for those were all that was there to read.

Anyway, the Greek spirit that lingered on like a hangover in the ancient Roman Empire seemed to revive and find a new resurrected life in the 16th century Europe probably because Europe had pretty much the similar issues as of Greece and later of Rome. Conditions in England at the time of Shakespeare reflect much of the times of Athenian democracy in which powerful elites owning private property have emerged and there is a nascent rise of what one calls as the middle class, as yet not so well organized so as to pull off a French Revolution. But the propertied elites, who are cultivated by Henry VIII by the award of private lands which they are enclosing much to the chagrin of the Church, now seem to live in some kind of a limitless world, in which neither the King nor the Bishop holds absolute power over the individual. In such times, it is the intellectual leaders like Aristotle and Plato, Pliny and Cicero that hold the minds of men (and women may be) of consequence. What do these intellectuals do to minds that they matter to? Read them through and you will immediately get what we call as secular philosophy based on logic and reason in which theoretical assertions emanate from a thorough study of the concrete material and not out of metaphysical make belief. Armed with such enormous knowledge of history, logic, and a metaphysics that is rooted in its material context, the renascent consciousness can place both the King and the Church, the royal decrees and the papal dicta right in historical contexts! This kind of intellect that knows the world is also on the anvil of being able to move the world, recreate the world and eventually command it. This is perhaps the birth of what we know in sociology as the individual agency. When many individuals exercise their respective agencies, it is important to then emerge into a consensus or enter into a conflict; men of property may like to reach consensus and then build institutions so that their properties are maintained. Such institutions can only be based upon reason and logic because those are the things which have brought them together in the first place and only to keep their mutual cooperation alive they will build things that will ensure that their camaraderie remains. No wonder the institutions are attacked whenever the larger society wants to break up gangs, for institutions are nothing but a camouflage for gang behavior. Shakespearean drama is all about such institution building by bringing equally placed humans altogether on the stage whose interest congeal or clash leading to various outcomes of eventual cooperation. In comedies, there is a possibility of consensus, in tragedies where conflicts arise, there is internecine destruction for conflict cannot thrive in systems where institutions are built on the dint of reason to protect material status and private property.

No wonder then whenever I watched and even sometimes acted in Shakespearean theatre I used to get a feeling of many heads talking on stage. My idea of the drama is melodrama in which each individual represents an emotion, and the interaction among them are interactions among the emotions producing an ensemble of “ragas” or “tones”; melodrama is laid out like a music piece and our popular cinema does not merely have the song and dance; they are song and dance. But Shakespearean drama is more like a set of conversations, like arguments and discussions born into a stage, very specifically a stage that was a half-way house between the Greek arena and the private drawing room. The public sphere of the Greek theatre was given the semblance of a private space especially created to entertain guests. Around this time we have a change in the architecture of English homes of the aristocrat as well the rise of the French salon but it is only in England that the stage for the drama is invented. Hence Shakespearean plays did much of the work that the salons did, create a public sphere of discourses based on morals, reason and logic which had to be argued out and not merely believed in.

Julius Caesar is the play that I am seeking from Runa. She has observed that the play is not on Caesar but about him, how people discuss him, how people feel about him after having stabbed the guy to death. Almost all of Caesar’s close aides are in the conspiracy to kill him who incite Brutus to take the lead, Brutus being the most loved of Caesar. I cannot understand Shakespeare’s language so I buy a copy of No Fear Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The Shakespearean play in printed on the left hand pages while the play rewritten in simple English appears on the pages opposite. I now see Julius Caesar just the way Cicero saw him. I know Cicero because I have recently downloaded his complete works on the Internet and reading through his piece on Caesar. Interestingly, all characters in the play bear fictional names except Cicero who is real. Shakespeare’s self-image is that of Cicero; aloof, objective, documenting things without assigning normative properties to his observations. Shakespeare chose to remain beyond partisan views and no wonder he is universal for he belongs to no particular point of view.

It seems that democracy and dictatorship representing two extremities are always in a state transition from one over to the other depending on what Marx would have called as the material forces of production. We see in the opening lines of the play, Julius Caesar that Cassius, the principal conspirator scolds the poor workmen who have come out in the streets to celebrate Caesar’s victory over Pompey. For Cassius and his ilk, conquest is a rude term, territorial expansion unnecessary; the Roman tradesman want peace and status quo so that daily life may go on and not imperialism which requires an entirely different orientation and posturing. Caesar is becoming powerful because he supports the workmen; who the “citizens” scorn. Caesar creates the mob who hail him and builds up pressure on the Senate to crown him. Did Rome not swear post Tarquin that Rome will be a republic of citizens and not an Empire ruled by the Caesar? Then Julius Caesar’s ambitions are clearly against the spirit of Rome; but there also builds up the pressures from below to be included as equally as the citizens, a pressure of the mob that the structure of the republic does not seem to be able to accommodate.

There are soothsayers and omens and bad dreams of rain of blood, graves opening up and corpses rising and lions giving birth to litter in the streets, indicating a mayhem and chaos. Despite rationality, eminent Romans seem to believe in pagan superstitions. Indeed pagan beliefs made a huge comeback across Europe with the rise of nationalism a few centuries later when the temporal power of the ruler overtook that of the Church leaving the religious needs to be satisfied by a return to pagan roots. Indeed, the French melodrama was pagan, German volk was pagan and Shakespearean motifs contained pagan elements in abundance. Paganism, nationalism, rational legal institutions a la Max Weber and secular liberalism appear to be coming together in the times of Shakespeare and Julius Caesar, the play seem to have captured these trends as part of an overall transition of the traditional society into a modern one.

Caesar’s is a closed world; here the Senators know each other and citizenship is almost a membership in a club. But Caesar, by adding territories and people from the periphery is expanding the population of Rome and this disturbs the sanctity of the exclusion of clubs. Clubs are strained and Caesar, the source of this strain has to be eliminated. Caesar is lured to his assassination by the promise of the Crown, this Crown he had refused thrice, each time more mildly than the previous one but now as Decius tells him that the Senate is all decided. When Calpurnia expresses her worries about Caesar being bathed in blood, Decius promptly inverts the interpretation by saying that actually it was a good dream that anticipates Caesar as giving his royal blood to the people. Caesar is stabbed many times, one each by his aides.

The real drama starts now after Caesar is dead; Mark Anthony emerges as one who bears Caesar in absentia and who establishes the dead Caesar as an entity to reckon with. The objective forces are changing creating a situation when Rome has to transform into an Empire from being merely a Republic; there can be no killing of Caesar for Caesar is the necessity, with Julius dead, many other Caesars will have to be born. The Senators like Cassius and Brutus, Cinna and Decius have only criticized Caesar by noting his weak physical body but Caesar can no longer be evaluated by raising old standards; it is Caesar’s mind that has made him the dictator, his strategies of creating noblemen out of soldiers, his politics of banishment on citizens who might criticize him, dramatic presentation of self instead of rational arguments, and the lust for control of territory through war and subjugation those become totally antithetical to the spirit of Rome. But Rome as a republic has lost its relevance because it now has to accommodate a much larger population, much larger territory. Hence Caesar has to live. This realization of Caesar’s necessity looms large as the guilt that each of his assassins face and which then turns into an internecine warfare and nearly all the characters die.

In the life and times of Shakespeare, Julius Caesar must have been rather relevant because only in 1649 barely a few decades after his death in 1616 that Oliver Cromwell led a revolution against the monarchy and signed the death warrant for the King, Charles I. Oliver Cromwell represents England’s intolerance for monarchy but the guilt among the assassins of Caesar may be a kind of a warning to all those who feel that the monarchy is anti-democratic and against the establishment of a republic. Shakespeare is a bard of all times precisely because each side of the story is presented clearly and with equal empathy; it is as if each person was presenting his case with his justifications and his beliefs. And then the audience becomes the judge and that’s how he gets drawn into the plays, the characters, their plots and in short into the world of Shakespeare.



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Kalinganagar, Jajpur, Odisha

The Overall Picture:
Kalinganagar is the name given to the Jajpur industrial cluster located in the Jajpur district of Orissa. Jajpur along with districts of Cuttack, Jagatsinghpur, Angul, Dhenkanal, Kendrapara, Balasore and Bhadrak constitutes what is known as the “mainland” Orissa. These districts fall in the plains of Subarnarekha, Mahanadi, Baitarani and Brahmani. Historically, these districts in the plains held themselves to be superior to the “periphery” which consists of plateaus and hills containing the districts like Sambalpur, Nayagarh, Koraput, Kalahandi and others. The periphery are inhabited by tribals like Kandhs, Chenchu, Bhuyans, Juangs and others, those of who have often exercised power as king makers in the states of Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar. The districts of Sambalpur, Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar are inhabited mostly by tribes of Jharkhand and since these districts are geographically similar to Jharkhand, they are claimed by the Greater Jharkhand movement. The adivasis in Orissa are usually non-Hindus, presently overwhelmingly Christian, and have always had an uneasy relationship with the Hindu mainstream. The category of “non Oriya”, laced with a strong sense of outsider is used for the adivasi population and the relationship between the two sets of anthropes is one of distrust, competition and conflict. The adivasis too are divided among themselves; the tribes like the Bhuyans and Juangs, who claim their affinity to Jharkhand imagine themselves as superior to the rest because of their historical role in setting up and breaking kingdoms of Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj and Dhenkanal.
The present tribals who are displaced by the Kalinganagar project are Mundas, who largely inhabit Jharkhand. Community memory says that they were imported from Jharkhand and settled in Jajpur by the king of Sukinda in order to clear the forests infested with formidable foliage and wild animals. The kind of Sukinda did this in order to get a passage from Sukinda to Cuttack, the high point of British power and Oriya culture during the late 19th and early 20th century. The Munda settlement of Jajpur was not before these dates. The Mundas were given only right of cultivation of the forest land and not titles of the land. This was in keeping with the adivasi society of not holding land as private property. Typically, Adivasis operate over a large area of ecology with specific identifiable ensemble of plant and animal species. This is because they rotate the patches on which they cultivate, a practice known as shifting cultivation, a much maligned practice in modern science. However, with recent findings on environment management, the indigenous practices have their own merits since such cultivation is free of the need to use fertilizer and pesticides and helps in cutting down very old trees of the forest. Very old trees have slow photosynthesis rates and become net emitters of carbon dioxide adding to the global warming. Felling such trees and planting young saplings increase the photosynthesis rates and hence maintain the supply of oxygen.
Shifting cultivation implies that the adivasis are not really tied to specific plots of land and instead operate on a geographical area. This is possibly why they have never quite cared for land titles and appeared to us as “forest” people. It is in the adivasis interests that they protect the forests because without forest, shifting cultivation is not possible. This means that adivasis are never averse to moving out of specific plots and resettling elsewhere as long as they get a similar ecology. The steel plants of the past like RSP, BSP and BSL had displaced adivasis but then displacement never became such an issue. This is because the availability of land in the early 1950’s and 1960’s was more than what it is at present and the displaced persons could relocate themselves easily in some other corner of the same geographical zone. Besides, such projects employed people in lakhs and helped many homes to achieve decent standards of living.
For the adivasi, farming is a basic food security; it is not so much a means of livelihood. Adivasis secure themselves of basic calories through subsistence farming which includes multiple crops like cereals, lentils, vegetables, leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds and animal protein. After securing their food, they then go in search of various kinds of work those are mostly unskilled. The adivasi feels no shame in performing physical labour and are found in various kinds of construction work. Let it not be imagined that farming and agriculture is livelihood for an adivasi, for they are keen to take upon a variety of employment; farming is a way of securing food for themselves.
When Biju Pattanaik, the political legend in Orissa announced that the state needed a second steel project and selected Jajpur as the place to set it up, the adivasis and the Oriya people were very happy. They imagined that Neelachal Ispat would be like the Rourkela Steel Plant that would come with opportunities of income and employment. They looked to be at least participants of the ancillary industries and allied activities. Interestingly when Neelachal Ispat Nigam Ltd, henceforth NINL came up in 1995, the local inhabitants came in for a rude shock. This is how the adivasis describe the process.
It seems that there was an announcement that NINL was acquiring land and clearing such land of its occupiers. The inhabitants, mostly the Munda tribes took the compensation money at Rs 10,000 per acre but continued cultivation till two years later in 1997, when NINL actually came in to put a boundary. The people meanwhile had looked around for alternative land and found that not only there were no longer any empty patches of land in the forest where they could resettle, but that the area that looked like a forest was actually various patches of privately held land!! The land on which the Jajpur cluster grew up initially belonged to the raja of Sukinda, parcelled out and sold off to private individuals from Cuttack and Bhubaneswar after the land ceiling act. Therefore when the Industrial Development Corporation of Orissa decided to acquire land, it did not have to acquire government or common land under eminent domain for public purpose but just had to buy land from private owners. Land was thus more easily transferred to IDCO in this way. The adivasis now realized that they had no land to settle on; there was no government land to occupy and the money they received as compensation was too meagre for them to be able to buy land. They also got to know through hearsay and other kinds of circulation of news that IDCO was selling paying Rs 35,000 per acre to the title holders of such land. The adivasis demanded more compensation to vacate the land on which NINL was to come up.
The demand for more by the adivasis was met with police repression and people were physically carried including the sick, the old, the children and pregnant women and thrown under the open sky at some distance. Some also died in police firing. The episode created widespread reactions among the adivasis who now decided to oppose whatever came in the name of industrialization. Tatas came into Kalinganagar just then. The adivasis were ready with their resistance to Tata; the company played a double game with the people. On the one hand they promised discussions, on the other hand they started their bhoomipuja. The Tatas brought in the police on the day of the bhoomi puja and the police open fired on the protestors killing a party of 14 among the front liners. The police guilty of killing civilians in peaceful protest went off scot free as the Tatas continued with their land levelling. Tata goons descended in the adivasis coopting many with bribes of a future employment in the company and of a good life at the camp but also issued threats to those who did not comply with them. The threats were intimidating, almost always in Hindi; there were exemplary killings with dead bodies thrown in front of some factory gate. As the media and the activists raised voices in protest against the killings and built up pressure on the state to intervene, the police started shuffling out of affairs at Kalinganagar; instead the Tata goons took over the task of the police; murder and mayhem followed.
The Tatas have adopted a carrot and stick policy. The carrot is the Tata card, a card that is provided to the families of the displaced persons. This card enables the members of the family to access medical facilities provided by the company. But the stick is the label of the Maoist that is given to those who are continuing the resistance over land dispossession and displacement. These persons are denied treatment not only in the medical centre set up by the company but in any medical centre in the area. No doctor has the courage to offer treatment to these persons for the fear of getting arrested on charges of having assisted the “Maoists”. The Tatas have desecrated the school inside the village of the adivasis and the children have nowhere to go to. Young boys spare about the entire day and earn a neat pocket money by supplying tobacco and alcohol in pouches to the guards at the gates of the factories in the place. The trafficking of young girls has become so rampant and prostitution so wide spread that the Orissa government has passed a law which recognizes prostitutes as the poorest of the poor and hence provide access to BPL cards and health care. This is a way of reaching out to the worst affected section of the people who today are branded as the “Maosits” because this is the segment that is most willingly taking to prostitution.
The Tatas have a reputation to maintain and hence it will no longer resort to any kind of open display of aggression against the people. Instead, they are using covert measures to intimidate the people who resist them. One of the ways to do this is to cut down the forests everywhere leaving the recalcitrant adivasis with only their homestead and patch of land. A patch of land at a fixed spot is useless for an adivasi and the destruction of forests mean the cutting off of supplies of fuelwood and fodder. The people are embargoed in as the supporting forests are destroyed.
They are simply holding the resisting people hostage till they agree to vacate the land totally. There is no active movement as such in the sense of slogans, processions and stone peltering but there are silent forms of torture like denying access to health and education, embargo on essentials like fodder and fuelwood, making a road all around the village so that the villagers have no exit road out of the village, witch hunting as Maoists, threatening doctors and other government officers who help them, rewarding the commissioners who side with the Tatas and transferring out any officer who sides with the protestors. Tatas use bribes liberally to turn every decision of the government in their favour and there is a general agreement across Orissa that it is the Tatas who run the state.
The adivasis cannot seek any kind of government help because in the record of the government the land that they are occupying has already been vacated and hence they have ceased to exist as persons. They are divested of their BPL cards, job cards for the NREGA and no contractor in the area has the courage to employ those people who have not agreed to be displaced.
Much worse is the case of the adivasis who have moved into the Tata’s transit camp. The camps are constructed like barracks, surrounded by barbed wire, securely guarded and are totally watched. The women’s bathing area and the toilets are wholly in the public gaze, by the side of the road and right in front of the guard. It is impossible to use the toilet in privacy; women emerge out of bathing areas dripping wet and must walk in full public gaze till they reach their quarters to change. The homes look into each other and there is no semblance of privacy to guard personal modesty. It is as if the girls and women are stripped in public. Such an architecture reminds one of the Nazi camps and is especially designed to break women’s confidence in protest and also force them into prostitution and flesh trade, the main beneficiaries being the employees of the Tata plant !!Making of a Movement:
Observing the step by step built up of a simmering resentment into an uncontrolled wrathful conflagration, one may observe the following events in a chronology.
1. Neither the adivasis nor the Oriyas were ever averse to development and in fact the entire society welcomed the setting up of the second steel plant. People in general looked forward to peripheral businesses that grow around the steel plants like transportation, hotels, repair shops, plumbers, electricians, tailors, retailers, whole sellers, grocers and providers of mats, brooms, cloth and toys. However, these businesses only become economical when the basic provision of food and shelter are fulfilled. Since subsistence farming provides food and nutritional security and provides some basic assets as insurance against risks like diseases, sickness and morbidity, economic diversification and economic expansion need necessarily be built up on a firm foundation of a basic subsistence economy. Unfortunately for the local persons the present model of development as was evident in the NINL land acquisition was based upon large scale displacements of people from their basic food security. This was unacceptable.
2. Even when the mainstream Oriya society could start some form of alternative business with the compensation money it was difficult for the adivasis to do the same. Economic markets are underlined with strong personal and social networks in which caste, ethnicity, linguistic groups matter very much. The adivasis with little presence in the economy finds it impossible to penetrate the same as truck owners or as owners of repair and tea shops. Lack of social density and social milieu makes it very difficult for the adivasis to participate in the economy and set up alternative sources of livelihood.
3. The adivasis therefore wanted to save and invest the money. They have little access to nationalised banks, where officers mislead and cheat them; it is difficult for them to open accounts because of the lack of “address proofs”. Besides, in the area earmarked for land acquisition, all kinds of government schemes like the NREGA, BPL have been withdrawn leaving the citizens invisible and without any “proof of existence”. Some private financial companies emerged on the trail of the compensation money and promised the local people of fantastic pay outs. Nothing came out and the company disappeared with the money leaving the adivasis divested of their money as well as of the land. “Company”, whether financial or steel came to mean the “East India Company” of Lord Clive and it is commonly believed that the British colonialism has returned albeit in the garb of the incumbent Chief Minister and the “companies” needless to say led by the Tatas.
4. When the saga of land acquisition began first with the NINL, the adivasis recalled their displacement during the setting up of the RSP, when they could easily relocate in some other part of the forest. But in the present case, the adivasis found, much to their dismay and surprise that resettlement was not possible. Forests were cleared, land was unavailable because of the proliferation of private ownership and if one had to purchase land then prices were too high and naturally unaffordable through the compensation money. This reality rudely shocked the adivasis and made then demand more money as compensation.
5. Land is not looked upon as a means of livelihood but as a way of locating oneself in the world upon which social opportunities are supposed to build up. It is an essential social security, a form of economic and social accumulation and must be judged not on the income flows it generates but on the guarantees it offers for food security, security of shelter and subsidizes the person who enters the labour force. Land becomes a kitty into which savings are transferred, on which savings accumulate to take care of yet another generation; it is a guarantee of life chances of people, and it is an asset that makes social opportunities materialize meaningfully for the labour force. If there has to be a genuine compensation for land, then it should be much beyond the mere income flows from land; compensation must quantify the social security and social accumulation that is possible for a person who has ownership of land.
6. The State has a deep legitimacy among the poorest of the poor in India. Despite various failings the Indian state has always been looked upon as the last resort by the poor to sustain them against extreme poverty. This has been especially true in Orissa, a state that has seen substantial state interventions in repeated food crises that has dotted its present as well as colonial history. It was therefore a matter of great despair that NINL, being a state owned company behaved as callously as it did. The force that it used to physically throw people into the open air without shelter against the sun and storm and no mercy shown to children, newborn infants, pregnant women, the old and the sick revealed the ruthlessness of a state in pursuit of profits. It was here that the people recognized in the remorselessness of the State that profits and not development was the motive of industrialization and since then alienation of the people from such industrialization was total and irreversible.
7. When the Tata’s project came up for land acquisition the adivasis were “prepared” to fight it out. The story was quite similar because the “company goondas” fought more valiantly than the police, captured, tortured and killed the protesting adivasis. When police complaints were lodged, a Tata officer who master minded the killings in the front gate of Rohit Ferro Alloys was arrested but later released on bail. Killings happened in many spots and these “spots” constitute the “relics” of the land. NINL and Tata Steel firings are today part of the folklore and burial sites of dead adivasis are now the relics of such lores.
8. Police officers who showed sympathy with the adivasis were transferred; while the Commissioner who came to investigate from the High Court only seemed to write a report on the state of poverty in the villages of Jajpur and not inquire anything about the killings. The Commissioner was rewarded with a family holiday in Singapore. These episodes threw in despair among the adivasis, a complete loss of faith in any kind of institutions around them and a belief that the one who holds the barrel of a gun gets his way. Violence has its roots in the utter despondency of the situation.
9. The adivasis would not have despaired so much had they seen the honesty of the State in implementing a Resettlement and Rehabilitation plan; unfortunately this was never implemented. Interestingly, though the R&R policy leaves much to be desired because the policy makers have major misunderstandings about the nature of livelihood, issues of food security and aspirations of the people. Were the R&R policies been implemented even without the clearing of such misconceptions, in the way it is written out in paper, it would not have angered the people to this extent.
10. The adivasis reason compellingly that the “market” has been bypassed in the negotiations over land. Had the State and the Tatas negotiated in terms of the rules of the market, the situation would have been entirely different and distinct. The adivasis are annoyed at the “insider” and “cronyism of the corporates and the State; they would have been happy were they allowed to negotiate as free economic agents.
11. As the movement against Tata Steel grew, the adivasis pulled out memories from the past and developed a sense of self worth. They circulated stories of how they were instrumental in civilizing the forest area through which Sukinda could get connected to Cuttack and how they were instrumental in joining together parts of mainland Orissa otherwise dotted with dense forests. They are conscious of their roles as protectors of the forests and conservers of ecology and the environment. It is with such worth in their minds that they wish the present State to deal with them with the dignity they deserve for such historical role.
12. The adivasis sensing that they did not have private ownership rights over land, and all rights of citizenship being shorn off from them as the present government recorded such land as having been cleared, renewed the right to cultivate title awarded to them by the raja of Sukinda in 2009. This is the only assurance that they are the inhabitants of the land.
13. In order to find a wider support for their movement, the Mundas of Sukinda marched towards Nandigram. Many were arrested on the way, questioned and kept in custody. The arrest showed that they were being followed and kept a track of. The government sensing that these tribals were seeking unity across the greater Jharkhand area that included apart from the districts of Jharkhand, adjoining areas from West Bengal and Orissa, harassed and tracked them. Eventually the Mundas from Jajpur did march to Nandigram.
14. Throughout the movement one sees the adivasi’s disillusionment with the presently incumbent State but not with the institution of the State. They imagine that resolution to their problems lie in a strong State, in a strong statesman as Indira Gandhi or Mamata Banerjee, in the return of the British Bengal Presidency, in aligning into a greater Jharkhand under the state of West Bengal and so on. Throughout Jharkhand, in movements in Lohardaga, Gumla and Ranchi, the desire to return to “Bengal Presidency” is very strong among the Jharkhandi tribes.

Breaking of the Movement:
When the Tatas found that the repression of the Kalinganagar movement was costing them their reputation, they resorted to other means of covert suppression.
1. The protestors were dubbed as being Maoists, the children’s schools were marked out as areas of conspiracy and broken down. The children went out of school, idled about the entire day and found easy ways of earning money by supplying alcohol and tobacco to guards of the various steel companies. No private teacher was encouraged to come into this area for the fear of being dubbed as a Maoist and eventually arrested.
2. The Tatas issued cards to the persons who agreed to shift out. Locally these persons are called as the displaced persons or the DPs. While the card ensures them ration, education and health care, the same is totally denied of people who are not with these cards. The non compliant adivasis are denied medical treatment even in the existing primary health care centres and doctors are too scared to treat anyone without the “card” in the fear that he will meet a fate similar to Dr Binayak Sen. Dr Sen’s arrest has been exemplary in the sense it has warned doctors never to treat the adivasis.
3. Tata Steel and other companies have been successful in levelling out land and clearing the forests and thus taking away the space in which the adivasi lives. The forests are important sources of fuel and fodder and also for fruits and medicinal plants. With forests cleared all around, the recalcitrant adivasi families who continue to live in a small patch of a forest are embargoed in.
4. The companies are building roads around the forest dwellers so that they are arrested within their own homes without any exit out into the world.
5. Companies are unleashing goonda terror on the local persons, especially targeted at their young and able bodied men.
6. The adivasis are looked down upon by the Oriya mainstream society and they have had historically conflict ridden relationships and hence they find no support from the Oriya community. The Maobadi is a clever construct of the companies and the police to repel the mainstream society from sympathizing with these people. Even the most progressive intellectuals of villages that are barely ten kilometres away have no clue of how the adivasis live. Conversations with an erudite socialist revealed that he still thought that the adivasis were closer to animals than people and suspected that Maobadis were teaching them; he had no idea that the adivasis have Dish TV connection in their homes in the forest.
7. In the displaced colonies people are kept as if in concentration camps. There is no privacy, no shade of trees, and rooms can look into one another. Women are forced to bathe in full view of public eye and the toilets are located right in front of the gaze of the security guards. This makes bathing, defecating and urinating into a terrifying experience for women and girls. This experience breaks the morale of a people.
8. The menfolk are provided with unemployment doles and promised work in the Tata factory once the factory is in some shape. The dole makes people lazy but it is also used in order for them not to start farming again. In the Lanjigarh displaced colonies managed by Gram Vikas had almost wholly recreated the pristine form of life of the adivasis. Unfortunately, in the Tata’s displaced colonies there was no sign of an NGO who could help rehabilitate the uprooted persons better. Tatas do not encourage adivasis to return to their ways of life even in the displaced colonies; they try to impose one single model forcibly on all persons, a model that has perhaps no scientific basis for development.
9. The displaced colonies are securely guarded, guards are extremely suspicious of any outsider around the premises, and a casual visitor is observed and followed very systematically and even intimidated.
10. By separating completely the displaced persons from the non displaced people, the Tatas have successfully broken the larger community of the Mundas and helped in isolating, alienating and atomising such people, leading to loss of social capital, social accumulation and social opportunities.
11. Historically the Oriya society has had intolerant relationships with the tribals. The mainstream caste society often looked down upon the indigenous persons with contempt, treating them as outsiders and activating processes to purge them out of the land. The indigenous persons are often cast as being ‘non Oriyas’ because they speak different kinds of languages, as non-Hindus and basically as outsiders. Interestingly many tribal communities in Orissa are immigrants into Orissa from Jharkhand,Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and even Gujarat and Rajasthan and Maharashtra. Far from being marginalized persons living in forests, tribal communities in Orissa have often participated in political uprisings, king making and even in some cases around the 11th to the 14th century ruling parts of the state. During the British rule, tribals have intrigued with the British as well as the princely states of Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj and Puri. Tribals in history have engaged in open warfare with the mainstream society, the latest being the Alephs attack on the Puri temple, the Alephs being a tribal sect from Sambalpur. In fact, unlike in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand the tribals never quite came directly under the British rule since the British rule was more to manage the various princely kingdoms that ruled over tribal lands. In view of such attitude towards the adivasis, one can expect very little by way of informed public opinion.
12. The tribals are themselves a divided lot. The Jharkhandi tribes consisting of the Santhals, Mundas, Hos feel themselves to be superior to the Khands, Kols and others. The Oriya tribals look down upon immigrants from Andhra Pradesh. Such divisions and historical conflicts make it difficult for the Mundas of Jajpur to draw support for their movement from the larger community. This makes the movement isolated and divested of sympathisers.
13. Orissa is a much divided society; caste divisions often run deep. Historically the Oriya society has had many points of power; one was the power of the temple of Jagannath, second was the political power of the state, the third was the moral power of the servitors and priests and the fourth was the cultural power of the educated, many of who were Bengalis who almost colonised Orissa’s elite culture since they migrated with Sri Chaitanya. The predominance of princely kingdoms imply that absolutist power was needed in order to check the social competition and conflict. It is because of this tradition of absolutism that Orissa did not quite develop an open public sphere the way it developed in Bengal. While there had been a literati class through debating societies in Cuttack and Puri and around the printed newspaper and journals, but such a class remained very narrowly focussed since they were mostly employed by the absolutist states. Oriya middle class is today far more comfortable pursuing “contacts” than achieving professional excellence, the latter of which would have made the intellectual more autonomous. The Oriya intelligentsia therefore pursues contacts and hence develops very little pride by way of expressing opinions’ in other words, he is a comprador of the ‘companies”, easily susceptible to bribes. Such a history had almost removed the Oriya middle class intelligentsia into an unquestioning supporter of the powerful instead of being progressive thinkers and left little scope for a civil society to emerge. In absence of a strong civil society, such movements as Kalinganagar could not find sympathisers outside its immediate vicinity.

Wider Society:
Tribals constitute only 30% of the population of Jajpur while the majority consists of mainstream Oriya persons who are peasants. The land acquisition also took away some peasant lands as well. The peasants found it useful to invest in restaurants, transport, repair shops and other similar areas. But soon they realized that investments other than transport business have fewer prospects when compared to their traditional occupation of farming. They also found it harder with the rising food inflation and shooting land prices and realize with each passing day that land alienation after all was not such a good idea. The rising pollution in the industrial cluster now tells on their dry wells, falling levels of ground water, dust and soot and increasing toxicity of soil. Those who continue to farm in Sukinda region feel the pressure of ecological degradation in view of the intense mining in the area. No wonder then the apparent beneficiaries of the project are also turning against the Kalinganagar complex.
The Jajpur cluster is located in the tribal area of Duburi with small subsistence farms with multicropping. Adjacent to Duburi is Sukinda, where lush green paddy fields stretch beyond the visible horizon. This is the area of single crop of rice, usually cultivated for commercial purposes. The land in this area today suffers from falling ground water levels due to over mining in Sukinda and Daitari. Farmers are unhappy with the ecological change, falling land productivity and the rising cost of inputs. The Orissa government has declared that farmers are to receive compensation by way of subsidies on farm inputs, so that what they lose out by way of ecology may be made up by artificial chemical inputs. The impact of such inputs is there for all to see because the newspapers reported the many peacock deaths in Behrampur due to the use of chemical inputs. Farmers in this area have been asked to switch over the organic methods of farming.
Orissa is rampant in illegal mining which implies that the transporters too are embroiled in the same. Since most transporters have been honest and self respecting farmers, it is a strain on them to work for mineral smugglers. In the tea stalls there are conversations on the movement of cargo which are mostly iron ore and sponge iron, of how they are going to be stacked in the godowns of Haldia for purposes of speculation. There are conversations of how the pollution control board officers, even when they are not corrupt are not vigilant enough to recognize environmental pollution. The black soot on leaves of trees is a cause of concern as such soot eventually impedes the ears of grain from paddy to emerge out. Pollution is connected to illegal mining which is in turn connected to the corruption of the political regime.
Another set of beneficiaries are the white collared plant employees. They too are a disillusioned lot. Steel plants are busier in illegal mining and selling of sponge iron and iron ore than in making steel. Plant schedules are erratic and plants remain closed for most part of the year; all employment is through the contractors, labourers have little rights and are dismissed at will. Salaries are generally low with little increments and promotions. The officers are forced to undertake illegal transactions for benami companies that exist only in paper and then blackmailed by the company that should they leave their services they should be jailed. Recently, an Essar Steel executive was accused of being in league with the Maoists; the employees tell that this is a ploy to force people into service albeit with poor facilities and stagnant pay.
The executives are educated middle class, proud of their professional degrees and they become disillusioned, their self worth suffers when they are forced to carry out illegal work. In a newspaper report on the scrap dump yard near the fertilizer unit of the Rourkela Steel Plant, it seems that the labour contractors force workers to do illegal work such as stealing scrap out of the plant. Across Orissa, labour contractors are also criminals, engaging in illegal mining, illegal trading and so on and forcing labourers to comply. There is a criminalization of the society which has led to extended sense of despondency. Mental depression, ennui, laziness, apathy to work is widespread not only among the poorer classes but also among the respectable middle class. The morale of the society is sinking with each passing day. Unethical business that takes land away from the people has other unethical practices as well, which demoralizes the professionals employed as engineers, doctors and managers of the plant.
Newspapers in Orissa are curious with reports on the growing slums in the cities, especially in Bhubaneswar; food insecurity, land alienation, loss of subsistence farming and ecological disaster is spelling a doom on livelihoods across the state and the neoliberal development policies of the government where handing over land and mineral resources of the state alone constitutes development.
The pattern of economic growth which is based on brokerage, contacts with various kinds of people in high positions creates a space for unethical business practices. Since aligning with such illegalities pays off materially and there is hardly any space for those beyond such businesses to prosper, an overwhelming portion of the respectable middle class is engaged in helping unethical businesses. This has destroyed the moral confidence of the intelligentsia, most evident in the falling cultural and aesthetic standards of the society. Garish clubs, hotels, pompous celebrations of Kumar purnima, clashes over Durga Puja are signs of an ostentatious, competitive society decaying with an alarming rapidity.
Evidences of torture of women in the hands of in laws appear to be common not only in the lower classes but among the educated persons as well. This and the widespread displacement has made prostitution rampant in the state so much so that the government has had to declare a policy on the prostitutes where they will be treated at par with the poorest of poor.

1. It will be wrong to imagine that the State is challenged in any of these movements. In fact the State is expected to perform a much larger role which it is not performing.
2. These movements are nationalist in nature with enough historical pride as to the community’s contribution to the making of Orissa.
3. There is also a need to reach out to greater Jharkhand and migrate into the erstwhile territory of the Bengal Presidency. Ecology seems to underlie politics.
4. Resistance movements are also strong environment movements; not only for the adivasis but also for the wider society. Pollution and immorality are seen to be connected.
5. The immorality which alienates the adivasis also alienates the wider population and it is the unethical business practices that have ripped through the moral fibre of an entire society. Unethical business is producing mental depression, alienation, isolation, distress, ennui and apathy.
6. The lack of a strong civil society and instead a culture based upon contacts has led to a vacuum in the social consciousness of the intelligentsia which helps the State to push its one sided policies without being critiqued and challenged in the media.

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Bangkok Bytes I

Planning For A Trip to Bangkok

Madhusree and I have never travelled abroad together on vacation. Both of us individually have travelled for work and for holidays within the country but never used our passports. Money is a constraint but time is even more of one and this is because we have to leave Georgie behind all by herself with her staff. But this time we were determined to break the jinx, travel to Bangkok we will, a destination which every Bengali seems to have made to. Besides, Shubhro, Madhusree’s brother is posted in the city as the county manager of an Indian public sector company. He is all by himself in the city, homesick and would look forward to our visit. We therefore buy our tickets, the cheap ones because we buy it so much in advance and pray to God that all coordinates are in place while we travel out. We have many spoilers for our plans, Georgie’s health, our parents’ health, office assignments and who knows some natural calamity? We are neck deep in work with major assignments to submit and many conferences to pull off and submit important advisories. We are working round the clock to morally earn a good vacation. We finish our work in the nick of time, my father is slowly recovering from a spine fracture and though on the eve of our departure Madhusree’s parents both fall down in the washroom of the theatre, they are restored without much hurt. So, with fingers crossed we start our packing by arranging clothes, papers and most importantly some downloads on Thailand.

I am never quite comfortable with foreign travel because of an unfounded fear that I might lose my passport or travel documents or that my bag will be picked. Yet the lure of encountering different people, different societies and especially different civilisations help me push my fears down my gut and rouse my spirits for adventure. I have little idea about Thailand really except that Bangkok seems to be the newest fad for the upstart and the aspiring Bengali middle classes. Why not Bangkok especially as Madhusree’s cousin Shubhro is posted in Thailand as the country manager of an Indian public sector company. He stays all by himself in the city and has learnt Thai and he could guide us around the city for what we call in economics as optimization or maximum tourism in the shortest possible time. The Internet is only indicative because it suggested some impossible combinations of Kanchanaburi and the floating market, places which were on two opposite directions beyond the city limits. Hence we have to rely to Shubhro’s guidance to pragmatically plot places downloaded from the Internet.

20th April, 2017 

We get into the plane to the polite welcome of the Thai hostesses. They are wearing resplendent silk, slim and petite with fine creamy white and yellowish skin. The men look soft and comely less assertive of their masculinity. The crew are wearing black badges and while we were wondering whether they were on a strike or not when we remembered that the Thai King was dead and the country was in mourning. A lady profusely apologized us and when we looked surprised she explained that she had stepped on to our shoes. What a contrast between her and the Indian tourists who rape and intimidate foreign tourists.

The airline crew were dressed in resplendent silk of hues that I have never seen in India and they had a black badge pinned on to their shoulders. I wondered whether they were on strike or not when Madhusree remembered that the Thai King, Bhumibol Adulyadej had died last October and the entire nation would be in mourning for a whole year, only after which the soul of the dead King would finally pass into Heaven. I wondered in my mind what kind of personalities are developed in nations without democracies? Our minds are so framed with democracies and even the nation that it becomes difficult for me to conceptualize the state of minds of the NRIs as well. How can a person who does not make her own decisions about her own government and one who does not have the full rights as citizens ever become a complete human being? I wondered. Anyway I decided to observe in the following brief time I was to be there.

The air hostess handed us two boxes of the Hindu meal insisting that we had booked the Hindu meal. This was completely false because we never like to have Indian food anywhere outside of our homes and the office canteen and to be reduced to the status of the Hindu meal was demeaning to us. The Hindu in our imagination is a conservative and ritualistic person steeped in superstition and discriminatory behaviour but for much of the world such as Central Asia and now Thailand or perhaps the entire south east Asia, the Hindu is plain and simple an Indian. She may be a Christian or a Muslim, a Sikh or even a Buddhist but to the parts of the world as these all Indians are the one and the same, the Hindu. The so-called Hindu meal arrived consisting of jeera rice, salt free green peas, pepper fish and cold pumpkin salad and pepper fish which was a half-way house between a Chinese dish and a continental baked fish in pepper sauce containing loads of cornflower paste. It was pretentious and yet inane tasting food.

I was quite surprised at seeing a number of Sikhs on board to Bangkok. Sikhs have become almost invisible in India, one rarely gets to see a turban around even in Amritsar or Chandigarh. Kolkata’s large population of Sikhs seem to have disappeared too. But now on the plane aboard to Bangkok there is a substantially visible Sikhs chattering away in Punjabi.

The plane flew amidst the dimensionless and directionless vistas of the Indian Ocean and the only thing that I could see from the clouds was that the Ocean waters were almost white, with a hint of translucent blue. The whiteness of the Indian Ocean must have inspired the ancient Indians to imagine the Kshir sagar, or the ocean of milk churning which have yielded almost every conceivable artefact of the Indian culture.

We landed in Bangkok to some kind of a VIP welcome which so kindly Shubhro made possible. It was good because as I was to realize later that almost no one spoke English in the country and even when they did, the accent remained particularly Thai. Women were everywhere as visa officers, as security personnel, behind the Forex counters, as shop keepers, as porters, lift operators, concierges and just as I half expected Shubhro’s driver also to be a woman, he turned out to be a burly Thai and who spoke English. He was a permanent employee of the Indian PSU and hence knew English, the mother tongue of India, a nation that exists as the highest common factor among a myriad of nations, cultures and even civilizations contained within its territory surrounded by the sea and cut off from much of the world by the tallest mountains on earth. His name was Lim, or Khun Lim, Khun means Mr, or Mrs, or even an Ms gender neutral universal term.


Suvarnabhumi Airport, BKK

The Bangkok airport was a huge affair, but it was very cold and functional. Bangkok is among the world’s busiest airports as Thailand is a major tourist destination apart from being the gateway to the south east especially for those who flew over the Atlantic. The airport had about six floors with a long corridor connecting it straight to the city rail. The city was not as glittery as Kolkata and in fact parts of it seemed to me to be rather dark. Many of the major crossing of roads and flyovers had a distinct feel of Chennai’s Annasalai area.

Shubhro’s Flat

Shubhro lived in one of the poshest localities of Bangkok, centrally located on a busy thoroughfare on the 19th floor. Living so high and amidst Thai high culture, I expected to get a taste of the Thai literally and figuratively from above. We dropped our bags and Lim parked the car in the garage and drove off to his home twenty kilometres away towards the limits of the city and we hailed a taxi to spend some time at the night market of Pratunam. We had pretty much here what we also have anywhere else in Kolkata, plastic table mats and curtains, bags and purses, an array of artificial flowers and decorative lights, T shirts and shorts, tights and shirts, mementoes in the form of key chains and paques and fridge magnets, belts and watches, lipstick and nail polish and various kinds of plastic and porcelain stuff like figurines. Ganesh was widely available across Bangkok but that I was to realize a day later when we visited yet another tourist spot, Kanchanaburi. But I did notice that the quality of the products were far superior to almost the similar stuff found on the pavements of Gariahat in Kolkata. Quality of work is a major indicator of development and clearly one can say that Thailand is a much more developed country given its good quality of manufacturing.

There were some young men supercilious and arrogant selling memento stuff the cheapest one could find and they introduced themselves as the MR people, MR meaning Myanmar, a community who the Thais seem to resent. I sensed a slight hint of a social boycott of the Burmese by the Thais. Among the Thai shopkeepers once again I saw the space being totally overrun by women. They were selling their wares, eating dinner, listening to music and making their faces up by dabbing foundation, reapplying their mascara and lipstick, or doing their nails. Children, like the men were absent from among some thousand shopkeepers along the street panning Sukhomvit and Pratunam.

We soon entered into an open air dining area with yet some thousand dining sets and shops all around these serving exquisite Thai delicacies. Once again all were women, only apparently so. Many among them were transgenders, and male cross dressers; Thailand was overwhelmingly feminine. The food was way beyond my idea of Thai cuisine formed through the culinary presentations of chefs in India. The Thai have a distinct flavour which is clearly discernible from cuisines of Vietnam, Laos, Burma and even of Indonesia and Malaysia even though seafood, sticky rice and fish sauce constitute the kitchen core of the entire region. I think that it is the galangal, the root ginger that makes all the difference and no wonder the term gaalagaal in Bengali means abusive, pungent as the Thai galagal.

Streets in Bangkok were agog with life; the particular night market which we visited and which extended into an open air food court was called the Talat Neon; Talat meaning the beholden beauty in Arabic while neon means plain English, neon lights. The table, chair, cutlery, crockery were all made of plastic, cold drinks were served in plastic glasses, snacks were served in plastic, so were the wares one bought, all thrown into plastic bags and yet I did not see a shred of plastic anywhere that I cast my glance. In order to avoid plastic waste, one need not ban plastic, one only needs to dispose it off responsibly. The Thais are more responsible people, the Indians are not.

Madhusree and I are clearly over our attraction for street food because we find sitting down in uncomfortable furniture and inadequate crockery and cutlery no longer to be our thing. Also we have an aversion to street food because we think that the hygiene standards are profligate. But on this muggy night with some rain clouds turning reddish against the dark sky threatening thunder and rain, we neither had fear of dirt nor the discomfort of the chairs. I think that the way the food was served with respect, interest and enthusiasm and the total absence of dust even in the light rise of the breeze, our reservations against street food vanished. We relished the Thai cuisine; it was exquisite, nothing like this we had ever tasted before.

Stuffed with food and all the gifts we bought for family back home, the three of us were in a bit of a hurry to get back home. We were eager to ride a Tuk Tuk just for the heck of it but the drivers were much worse than those in Delhi or Chennai charging us a bomb. We abandoned the idea of the Tuk Tuk and hailed a plush airconditioned taxi back home at a fraction of the cost of the Tuk Tuk.

Shubhro’s rented flat has no ceiling fans, the Thais use only pedestal fan and indeed I saw many selling a hand held battery fan. Fans for the Thai is a personal affair and not a matter of changing the environment as for we the Indians. But we had a lovely night because of the air condition and no power cuts in Thailand. I felt let down by the Haryana power supply for even in the lightest of rains power can be snapped for over six hours. Here in Bangkok, a city of rain and thunder, electricity continued uninterrupted with the same kind of overhead electric wires. I tried to look closely at the wires, they were thicker, glossier, and sturdier. I wondered why we could not have these wires for the Haryana Power Utilities especially when we were funded of half a billion of USD by the World Bank.

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